This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
James Hong may not be the most famous celebrity at Salt Lake Comic Con but he may be the most prolific.
"This is my 60th year [in Hollywood], I've done about 500 movies and TV," Hong, 85, told an appreciative audience at a panel Friday in the Salt Palace Convention Center.
The Internet Movie Database lists 387 credits for Hong, in movies and TV going back to 1953. But that's an undercount, Hong said.
People may recognize Hong from such films as "Blade Runner," "Chinatown," "Big Trouble in Little China" and "Wayne's World 2," or from TV appearances on "Seinfeld" and "M*A*S*H," or as a voice actor in cartoons most famously as the noodle-cooking Mr. Ping, adopted father of Po in the "Kung Fu Panda" films.
Hong grew up in Minnesota, and studied to be an engineer. He wanted to act, so he moved to Hollywood, where his talent for impressions which he showed off to the Salt Lake Comic Con crowd got him booked on Groucho Marx's game show "You Bet Your Life."
Hong came to Hollywood during the era of blacklisting, and his first acting teacher, Jeff Corey, was a blacklisted actor.
He also had to deal with racism in Hollywood, with casting directors picking caucasian actors to play Asian roles.
"I got sick and tired of it. I was the first actor to say, 'I can't take it anymore,'" Hong said. He and other Asian actors, including the Oscar nominee Mako, founded East-West Players, a group that's still going strong today, Hong said.
Hong has worked with the likes of Jack Nicholson and Kurt Russell, and enjoys the camaraderie. "It's not just friendship, but you're learning by watching them act," he said.
Perhaps his biggest role was as David Lo Pan, the ageless villain in John Carpenter's "Big Trouble in Little China."
Hong was impressed with Carpenter's ability to do everything on the set: Directing, composing music, designing sets, the whole thing.
"He was just really into it," he said of Carpenter. "He kind of overwhelmed himself."
Hong described how Carpenter created what looked like an infinitely long tunnel, in the pre-CGI days, using forced perspective.
Hong ad-libbed some of his lines (most famously Lo Pan's exasperated "This is pissing me off to no end"), and also ad-libbed a moment when, while menacing Kim Cattrall, he tickled her. "I couldn't resist," he said.
Playing villains is lots of fun, Hong said. "You can't do that stuff in real life," he said.
He also relates to playing Mr. Ping in the "Kung Fu Panda" movies. "It's perfect for me, because he's a little grouchy," he said. (Hong has already recorded his role in the third "Kung Fu Panda" movie.)
Hong gave this advice, based on his own life: "If you have a dream, just follow it and do it."